100 million years from now
During the Industrial Revolution our species numbered 1 billion for the first time, accelerating until around 1950, when population growth and human consumption explode.
The Great Acceleration. This era of unprecedented economic change and consumption would be unmistakable in the rocks. Our waste contains materials never before seen on Earth. Every year, we pump out a mass of plastic equal to the weight of all humans on Earth. And not just plastics, also glass and bricks. Although they’re made from raw minerals, they’re modified by heat into forms both long-lasting and notably organized.
Consider aluminum, it was essentially unknown in its pure elemental form before the 19th century, yet since 1950 we’ve produced enough for every human alive to make a stack of cans half a kilometer high. Enough concrete has been produced to pave all of earth, and half of that since just 1995. All of this stuff would mark the most new minerals created since oxygen first built up in our atmosphere, 2.4 billion years before you are watching this video.
And beyond these raw materials would be traces of the things we’ve made with them. Our technofossils. From planes and phones to paper clips and lost ballpoint pens, countless confusing traces of our time. And should these future explorers be versed in chemistry, they’d find metals and rare-earth elements spread worldwide, and strangely missing from the lower layers where we dug them up. A few, like platinum, rhodium, and palladium would be strangely concentrated along strands of a strange web, ejected long ago by catalytic converters… attached to cars on our roads.
Many species go from local concentrations in older layers to sudden global spread, marks of our domestic animals, plants, and invasive species.
Animated map shows location of world's largest city over time